Robbers Roost and Canyonlands National Park

The Canyons of Utah

Visiting our National Parks is one of the most fun and low cost things we as Americans are able to do. Each park is unique in it’s own way and offer us a chance to see what America really is. The National Parks in the west present some of the most picturesque scenery on earth and every location has it’s very own history and story to tell. They make terrific additions to a low cost fun road trip.

canyonlands national park
Canyonlands, Courtesy Nat’l Park Service

The state of Utah offers the vacationer no less than five National Parks The Canyonlands region of Utah is divided into two parts, the north and the south, and each has it’s own unique sites and scenery. The north section includes the town of Moab.

Take just a short drive from there and you can enjoy Arches National Park. It’s only 5 miles north of Moab. Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches.

Another part of the north region is a part of Canyonlands National Park called the “Island in the Sky“, a place which will make you feel you’re at the top of the world. Also a short drive from Moab is Dead Horse Point State Park which offers thrilling views of the Colorado River running some 2,000 feet below. The southern region also includes Canyonlands National Park as well as beautiful Monument Valley, the scenery of choice for many a western movie, and also Natural Bridges National Monument and the Lake Powell area.

Today, millions of people have traveled to this area of Utah to take in it’s breathtaking scenery but in years past, many many decades ago before the National Parks came to be, the remoteness offered other things.

utah national parks
Canyonlands National Park, Courtesy NPS

The Utah Hideouts

In the days of the late 1800’s, the remoteness of this area of Utah was coveted for reasons other than traveling and it’s natural beauty. The myriad of canyons offered the ideal place for outlaw gangs to hideout in.

Such was the case at today’s Canyonlands region. Butch Cassidy and his gang the “Wild Bunch” made good use of this area as one of the gang’s main hideouts following their many criminal escapades such as train robberies, bank heists and of course cattle rustling. History tells us that other outlaws used the canyons of southeastern Utah for the same reasons but The Wild Bunch, because of the large publicity they received, were probably most responsible for it’s place in old western lore. For over 30 years this highly remote area served as a hideout for outlaws of every type. The rough terrain of this locale made it ideal. It was not difficult to defend from lawmen and because of it’s many high points and small number of trails it was quite easy to spot anyone coming in. It couldn’t have been a better place to take time off after a robbery and lie low for awhile.

butch cassidy photo
Butch Cassidy, Public Domain image

The Wild Bunch even constructed cabins inside Robbers Roost to provide shelter during the winter months. They stored weapons, horses, chickens, and cattle. Cassidy of course had some outside help, namely from Ann and Josie Bassett, owners of a Utah ranch. It was from the Bassetts that Cassidy and his gang received fresh horses and other supplies. The tale is that the Bassett sisters were most likely the only women who had ever visited the Robbers Roost.

It’s reported that lawmen of the era never were able to locate the hideout. That’s how rugged the country was. Over the years the hideout gained a reputation as being impregnable, and the many tales about its defenses boosted its legend. Supposedly the hideout also had tunnels and land mines set in place. This could have been the most elaborately planned hideout in all of old west history. The Robbers Roost was said to be abandoned as an outlaw hideout after the year 1902 when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid left on their journey to South America.

The Legendary Old West Outlaws

Old west history is quite amazing when it comes to outlaws. Legends grow with time and Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch were perfect examples. During their era of course they were considered by most to be criminals. Outlaws who stole money, rustled cattle and occasionally shot and killed people.

Just as with Jesse and Frank James, the Younger brothers, Sam Bass down in Texas, Billy the Kid and Black Bart in old California, the line blurs between what is an outlaw and what is a hero. American popular culture for a variety of reasons has been infatuated with the bad guy.

 The Media Boost

outlaw sam bass
Sam Bass, Public Domain image

Movies, dime novels and in some cases history books have glorified the exploits of a few chosen criminals. Hollywood has made the anti-hero a staple in many cinematic themes.

The purpose has certainly been for commercialization value rather than a serious social statement. Americans seem to like it more when the little guy stands against the injustices of big business or the government. In the old west big business would have been the railroads, stagelines and banks. This perhaps would be the one element that would make an outlaw seem as a hero to some. The strong pro-Confederate stance of Jesse James and his gang tended to frame their crimes in a political tone rather than in an anti-social one that it really was. At least this would explain some of the public’s attitude.

Links to two additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy are the Pinkerton Detective Charlie Siringo and the Pinkertons and Jesse James.

utah national parks canyonland
Canyonlands Nat’l Park geography, Courtesy J.Benjamin Wildeboer

A Hiking Trip to Robbers Roost

Today, adventuresome travelers sometime elect to backpack and hike the canyons to the Robbers Roost.

The trek is considered strenuous and can last from about 3 to 7 days. Also, because of the weather extremes, both hot and cold, the season is March through early June and September through October. The nearest town is Hanksville Utah. A good book for this pursuit is Hiking and Exploring Utah’s Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost authored by Michael R. Kelsey.

Hanksville is in Wayne County Utah at the junction of State Hwys 24 and 95. The town got it’s name from Ebenezer Hanks who was the leader of a Mormon pioneer group who established the small settlement. Today’s economy in Hanksville includes being a jumping off point for tourists going to the canyon recreation areas. Agriculture and mining are also active in the area.

If your next western road trip takes you to the beautiful state of Utah, the unique hiking opportunity to Robbers Roost may be just the thing to make your Utah trip extra special.

(Photos and images from the public domain)